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Blacks voted at higher rate than whites for first time in 2012

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It’s official: The effort to block African-Americans’ path to the voting booth in 2012 backfired, and then some.

For the first time in history, black voters turned out at a higher rate than non-Hispanic whites last fall, according to a new Census Bureau report released Wednesday. The report found that 66.2% of African-Americans voted, an increase of 1.8 million from 2008. White turnout was 64.1 million, a drop-off from 2008 of around 2 million (see chart below).

Blacks also “outperformed” as a percentage of the electorate. They made up 12% of eligible voters, but 13% of the electorate.

Minorities made up an unprecedented 26% of the electorate, and carried President Obama to victory, allowing him to defeat Mitt Romney by a clear margin despite receiving just 38% of the white vote. Over 90% of African-American voters supported President Obama.

African-American political activists have said since the election that the slew of voting restrictions targeting their community—photo ID laws, cuts to early voting, and purges of voter rolls—only increased blacks’ determination to exercise their rights.

“It made the case very clear-cut to people about what was happening,” Marvin Randolph, the NAACP’s vice president for campaigns, told msnbc last month. “We could say to people: This is a poll tax.”

turnout in presidental elections chart

Only 48% of eligible Hispanics voted−the same rate as Asians—though Hispanics still made up 10% of the electorate (blacks were 13% and whites 74%). That suggests that the group has the potential to exert enormous political influence as the level of Hispanic voter participation increases.

A Pew Research Center report released in December found that blacks may well have voted at a higher rate than whites in 2012, though it warned that there could be no “clear verdict” without additional Census Bureau data. And an AP news report last month cited the Pew study and other analyses to declare that African-American turnout had indeed surpassed white. Wednesday’s release from the Census Bureau confirmed the landmark development.

The news comes less than 50 years after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which officially banned practices like literacy tests and poll taxes that were used to keep African-Americans from the polls, especially in the south. In February, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to a key provision of the law, brought by conservatives who argue that by singling out some southern states for special scrutiny, it violates the Constitution. A ruling is expected next month.